Life is beginning to return to normal and the Netherlands has reopened museums. It is so nice to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that living in The Hague has for art experiences. One of these is living so close to Beeldan aan Zee and the contemporary exhibitions housed there. In March 2020 the museum had planned to host an exhibition of the works of Igor Mitoraj. However, the exhibition was postponed due to COVID. Thankfully it wasn’t canceled! Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour the Façade exhibition and it was amazing!
The first time I saw an Igor Mitoraj sculpture was when we moved to The Hague, The Netherlands. We lived in temporary housing in the centre and would wander around investigating the sights of our new city. One day we came across Per Adriano and I fell in love with it instantly. Five months later while waiting for possession of our house in The Hague we happened upon another Per Adriano in Angers, France. It was over, I was hooked and began researching where I could go to see his other works and learned about his statue, Light of the Moon in Scheveningen, and about the Beeldan aan Zee museum.
Left is Per Adriano in The Hague, The Netherlands and middle is Per Adriano in Angers, France, right is Light of the Moon in the dunes in Scheveningen.
On our tour we were fortunate enough to have Leana Juliana as our tour guide. Julian was, as I understand it, a curator of the exhibition. Throughout the tour it was clear that she was passionate about what she had helped to create, and in turn, made all of us feel passionate about the exhibition.
The first thing that happens when you walk into the Façade exhibition is a calmness comes over you. Your eyes are filled with the view of so many beautiful statues of bronze, marble, and iron. Your ears are filled with beautiful classical music. A scent wafts through the air as the exhibition is set up to be a multi-sensory experience and it has achieved this. You can even purchase the scent and there is a QR code with the Spotify playlist you can scan.
Matoraj is considered one of the great contemporary artists. Known for his disjointed or fragmented sculptures of the human body, which are more often than not male. Though his artwork is based on classical themes and styles there is a post-modern slant to the work. In his artwork he often distresses the surface, or cracks it in a very calculated way. With this process he seems to represent the vulnerability and sensuality of the human body, the scars, and wrinkles we all develop with time, but that represent a life lived. It is often called decay but I see it as human experiences; the beauty that we accumulate with aging.
The blindfolded Goddess of Law and Justice between two of Mitoraj's sculptures.
Many of his sculptures are recognizable as mythological beings such as Icarus, Titan, or Eros. Each of these have a contemporary twist though, often with smaller sculptures or figures in, on, or behind the larger statue, such as a broken wing or Per Adriano peaking through a wing. His pieces often have bandaged faces with covered eyes and mouths. The bandages, along with the smaller sculptures, are often thought to represent the idea of being silenced or imprisoned. In our tour one of the group members brought up how Themis, the Greek goddess of law and justice is blindfolded (interestingly when I went with Christina Baird, she mentioned this too). When I looked up the symbolism behind Themis’ blindfold, I found it is meant to represent impartiality. Perhaps Mitoraj is considering his impartiality when sculpting these sculptures with covered eyes? Or perhaps he is trying to give the viewer an impartial view. Whatever his reason the sculptures definitely invoke a feeling of passion from the artist and a sense that the perspective is individual and unique for each of us.
When I saw the size of some of these statues it made me feel very small. They are not only large but provide such an impactful experience. Julian explained that for the statues to arrive at Beeldan aan Zee they had to be put on flatbed trucks and driven from Tuscany, Italy, through Switzerland, and Germany to reach the Netherlands. The statues are huge and the weight is unimaginable. The Hermanos statue alone is 2.95mX3.26mX2.95m of bronze (28.18 m³ or 6199 imperial gallons – not sure this is the right measurement used in imperial units) resulting in a weight between 217,000 kg to 244,000 kg (478,403 lbs to 537,927 lbs). My only thought was ‘what if they were in a car accident, and such important pieces of artwork were damaged or destroyed?’
One of the most amazing things was seeing the exhibition in different lighting. In a one-week period between my visits, I experienced a grey day and a sunny day. The difference was astounding. Almost all the photos I used for this were taken on a sunny day. The Icarus one below is the only one I used from the grey day and it is just to show the lighting difference.
The first two statues were taken on two separate visits to the museum. Notice the lighting difference? The last one is Ikaria (Icarus) taken on a sunny day.
One of my favourite aspects of Mitoraj’s art is how he can take just a foot, or even a cast of his own lips, and make it so sensual and hard to turn away from (and for those who know me, hard not to touch).
Outdoor Locations of Some of Mitoraj’s Sculptures
Below is a list I have compiled of the outdoor locations of some of Mitoraj’s sculptures. It is by no means complete or 100% accurate and I would love if people helped me make the list complete by sending me locations of Mitoraj’s sculptures that they are aware of and even pictures (if you are ok with me including them giving you full credit for the photo, of course).
Background Summary on Igor Mitoraj:
Born in Germany in 1944 to a Polish mother and a French father (with Polish ancestry) during the second world war, his mother returned with him to Poland when the war was over. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and then continued his studies in Paris, France. He began his career as a painter and graphic artist.
Matoraj spent a year or so travelling around Mexico and learned more about art and the Aztecs. It was here that he became interested in sculpting. Returning to Paris in 1974 he began sculpting in bronze and terra cotta.
He also travelled around Greece studying the ancient works of art there. You can see the strong influence from his Greek travels in his sculptures. They often invoke images of Greek mythology such as Icarus, Titan, or Aphronias. A glance at the statues gives you a sense of ancient Greece but a modern perspective becomes immediately apparent.
In 1976 he was asked to give his first exhibition for the Gallery La Hune in Paris. He spent a year preparing works for this exhibition and most of that time was spent in bronze foundries and with marble masons in Pietrasanta, Italy (close to the Carrara quarries in Italy in which Michelangelo’s marble came from). The exhibition was a huge success and ended with him having sold every piece he had included.
Both sides of Piede Con Mano are shown with beautiful lighting.
In 1979 a trip to Carrara made him decide to use marble as his primary medium for sculpting and by 1983 he had set up a studio for himself in Pietrasanta that he considered ‘his place on earth’.
Mitoraj received the Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis in 2005 and The Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 2012.
He died in Paris on October 6th, 2014 at the age of 70.